Spinning our (PR) Wheels

Posted on March 4, 2009 
Filed Under General

It’s no surprise that the media is skeptical of PR. I’ve written in previous posts about the over-usage of the word “spin” in the news media in reference to the practice of public relations, and the negative label of PR as a two-letter word to connote pulling the wool over the public’s eye.  AIG (American International Group) is not the darling of the media or most tax-paying citizens and most of us not living in a cave know that the government is bailing it out for the fourth time to the tune of tends of billions of dollars. Today, the New York Times takes AIG to task for using four PR firms on its payroll, noting: “Some taxpayers and members of Congress could view public relations as unnecessary expenses.”  The article, titled “AIG’s Spin Army” essentially criticizes the use of AIG “spinmeisters” to control the public message.

There is no better time than now for PR to help a company in crisis and to have some control over the message.  This is not to say that AIG will ever be off the hook, good PR notwithstanding. But you can’t blame PR for the mess this company is in.  It appears to me that their communications team, both in-house and via Hill & Knowlton, Burson-Marsteller, Kekst & Company, and perhaps a few others, are doing their best to mitigate the crisis. On its site, there’s a section called AIG Moving Forward and a tab “Setting the Record Straight.” The site is filled with content and useful information for anyone who’s interested, though the fact of the matter is that this company is in deep trouble and most likely the only ones reading the content on the site are reporters, lawyers and AIG employees. The best PR can do is answer questions, manage what’s left of AIG’s reputation, and help repair its image during its supposed recovery.

PR is indispensible for managing a crisis and better yet, managing reputation before a crisis.  It is rarely an “unnessary expense” and when it is, that’s most likely because of the PR people executing a particular initiative. The reason PR News just launched the “It’s the PR” campaign is to advocate for the industry and help build PR’s reputation. Actions speak louder than words, so I implore all PR people to remind management of the value of PR, to measure and report back, and share your success stories with the media, your colleagues in every department and with your own PR staff who might need to be reminded of why they’re in PR.

- Diane Schwartz

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